Food & Drink

Sweet Dreams in Scotch Plains-Fanwood

Available in an inviting café atmosphere, Mara's desserts are rated among the best in the state. Credits: John Mooney
The traditional Jewish pastry is to die for. Credits: John Mooney
Once a place for great bakery goods, Sweet Lew's shelves are now sadly empty.   Credits: John Mooney
Credits: John Mooney

SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ - This week, My Town Bakery abruptly closed its doors after 15 years in downtown Scotch Plains. In nearby Plainfield, Sweet Lew’s and its predecessor, Margie’s Cake Box, could not survive. Even Entenmann's, a staple in supermarkets across the tri-state area for more than 50 years, announced that it would close its Bay Shore, N.Y. bakery. 

One begins to wonder if there is any dough to be made in the baking business. The key is to deliver quality.

John Cioffi, owner of the Swiss Pastry Shoppe at 1711 E. Second St. in Scotch Plains, has been operating in the same location for 27 years. His shelves are filled with cookies, danishes, crumb cakes and bagels made on site.  However, the Italian immigrant attributes much of his success to orders for wedding cakes and his outstanding chocolate, raspberry, and apricot rugelach. The bakery fulfills orders for many of the local temples and catering halls that specialize in bar mitzvahs and other Jewish affairs.

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“Sunday is our busiest day, but a lot of people don’t realize we are here,” said Cioffi, 78, as he handed cookies to a customer’s two young sons. “Baking is a hard business to survive in if you are only selling retail. We sell wholesale to clubs and caterers and do specialty items like wedding cakes.”

Mara’s Café, at the intersection of South Avenue and Martine Avenue in Fanwood, has a dazzling array of cupcakes and other goodies, including gourmet gelato. The café was voted Best Coffeehouse in New Jersey by the readers of New Jersey Monthly magazine.

“Margins are tight in the baking business. We use butter cream, which makes a higher quality product with better taste, but the shelf life is shorter than you get from supermarket baked goods that use shortening,” said Marci Semel, who is about to celebrate her first anniversary of opening Mara’s. “You have to plan well – both the amount of product you make and how you manage your staff in order to be profitable.”

Scotch Plains and Fanwood are fortunate to each have one of the top rated dessert-makers in the state. For more of traditional, old-fashioned bakery experience, visit the Swiss Pastry Shoppe. For a coffeehouse atmosphere with exquisite desserts and outstanding fresh brewed coffees and specialty beverages, including cappuccinos, Mara’s is the choice.  

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